admin / August 28, 2008

After School Snacks

One thing I remember about my school days is coming home so hungry that I’d grab the first thing I saw sitting in the pantry. And I’m afraid to say that it was usually a handful of cookies or a bag of chips. All kids get hungry and can’t always wait until dinnertime to refuel after a long day at school. But you don’t want them loading up on too many calories and then not eating dinner. A compromise is a small snack. Here are some ideas for keeping after school snacks both fun and healthful.

Portion Control
One of the biggest problems is letting your kids pick and choose how much they eat when they arrive home from school. If they want chips, make your snack treats using smaller portions and put them into zip lock bags. Also opt for low fat and low sugar varieties in everything you serve.

Stock the Pantry
One of the keys to keeping your food budget under control and getting your family to eat healthful meals is having the right foods on hand at all times. If they’re hungry and you’ve only got candy bars and chips sitting around, that’s what they’ll eat. Stock up on things like low fat chips, cookies. Fruit salad is another good pick. Most children won’t protest about eating it if you add things like grapes, kiwi fruit and bananas.

Cheese and Savories
One of my favorite snacks is whole wheat crackers and low fat cheese and children love it too. Another favorite with children are the fish shaped cheese crackers. The best thing is they’re full of flavor but baked not fried. Another pick is low fat chips and salsa.

Mini Meals
Depending on what time your children return from school and what time you serve dinner, they might like to eat a ‘mini’ meal. Maybe half a burrito, quesadilla or a small serving of macaroni and cheese.

Soup
While you don’t want children to eat too much before dinner, sometimes a cup of soup can take the edge of the hunger pains. Some fun choices, and a way to disguise the vegetables is minestrone or tomato with the fish shaped crackers.

Dessert First
How many times have you see children hurrying through dinner just to get to dessert? One way to avoid that is to serve dessert as soon as they return home. Good choices include things like low fat rice or chocolate pudding.

Drinks
Just like adults, some children think they’re hungry when in fact, they’re just thirsty. Have some 100% fruit juice sitting in the fridge or even frozen pop treats made from the fruit juice. It might be all they need.

admin / August 28, 2008

The Budget Smart Girl’s Guide to Ways to Save Money this Fall

I’m always just a little sad to see summer coming to an end. But if you start thinking like a true Budget Smart Girl, there are plenty of things to love about the beginning of fall. Autumn can mean plenty of ways to save money. Here’s how-

Grab the Last of the Summer Bounty
I’m still seeing the produce department at my local supermarket brimming with items like corn, beans, tomatoes, herbs. Plan ahead and turn them into salsa, sun dried tomatoes, and yes, even soups.

Grab the Fall Produce
September means the beginning of apple season and once again think ahead to meals for the colder days that are just around the corner. Baked apples, apple crumble, apple butter…all recipes that freeze well.

Head to the Stores
Think ahead to next summer and buy the last of this year’s summer clothes, sandals, and yes, even outdoor furniture, umbrellas and outdoor slides and swings for the children.

Hold a Sale
I’ve held garage sales in the summer and fall and on average have made more money in the fall. One reason, the kids are back in school and moms have more time to browse and yes, buy.

Go Christmas Shopping
I’ve been receiving Christmas catalogs in my mailbox for a couple of weeks now, and while I’m not quite ready to buy anything from them, it’s a good time to look the sales local stores are offering and buying a gift or two for someone on your list.

Head to the Beach
The main vacation season is coming to an end and that means savings for you. Go online and search through sites like Expedia, Orbitz, etc, and check out the bargains.

Load Up on Office Supplies
The stores are still full of back to school supplies and if you run a home office, there’s no better time to stock up on typing paper, pens, etc.

Get Ready for Winter
Utility prices, just like everything else are on the increase and fall’s the best time to check your house to see that you’ve got enough insulation in the attic. Or maybe you need to caulk around the window frames again.

Get A Head Start on Next Year’s Garden
Fall is the best time of the year to plant new seed on your lawn and to fertilize your lawn. The seed has more of an opportunity to grow before the summer sun starts to burn it up and Mother Nature will probably give the new lawn a free watering.

admin / August 22, 2008

Packing a Budget Friendly School Lunchbox

Back to school not only means getting back to a regular routine, but also thinking about what to put in the school lunchbox every day. Food prices might be on the increase, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice taste and nutrition.

Get the Children Involved
One sure way to waste money is to pack a lunch that goes uneaten. An easy way to avoid this is to get children involved in planning what they want to eat. Younger children can help pack their box while older ones can even help put together things like trail mixes and sandwiches. If children feel they have some control over a situation and can pick and choose, they’re less likely to put up a fight about eating certain foods.

Bulk Bins
If you’ve never shopped the bulk bins at your local supermarket or co-op before, make it a back to school resolution to do so. You’ll find some healthful choices there and you can sometimes shave off a few dollars from your grocery bill. Take a browse through the bulk bin section and you’ll find lots of organic items, nuts, dried fruits, etc. A couple of recipes I make using these items are trail mix and energy bars. Cheaper than buying them already made and the trail mix can be put into small plastic containers and replenished each day.

Don’t Buy Individual Containers
You’ve seen the individual containers of Jell-O, applesauce, rice pudding, etc. And now I’m even seeing containers of peanut butter. They’re a waste of money and just more plastic that ends up in the landfill. Once again invest in small plastic containers and fill them up each morning.

Cheeses
For some reason, pre-sliced cheese is a big hit in my household. However, I have one rule. If I’m going to buy it, it has to be on sale before it goes into the shopping cart. When I see a deal like two packages for $4, I’ll stock up and store them in the freezer. Other times, I’ll buy a block of cheese and cube it, or make cheese ‘fingers’ that looks like string cheese.

The Food Groups
Try to add something from each food group to the lunchbox and definitely don’t forget the fruits and veggies. Baby carrots, strawberries, sliced kiwis. Even a container of dried fruits like pears or apricots.

Beverages
Don’t rely on bottled water or soda. Buy a water container and fill it up each morning. Water is probably the best choice but if you hear too much protesting, add half 100% fruit juice and half water.

Resources
A few years ago I interviewed Amy Hammert, president and co-owner of Laptop Lunches which sell American Style bento boxes. Laptop Lunches produces one of the best monthly newsletters I’ve seen and I highly recommend you sign up for it. It’s full of great ideas for snacks and meals to include in the daily lunchbox. And while you’re on the site, click on Lunch Ideas, if you can’t find something there to put in the lunchbox, you never will. www.laptoplunches.com

admin / August 22, 2008

The Budget Smart Girl’s Guide to What to Wear this Fall

I know it’s tough, but sometimes being a slave to fashion trends can cost you big time. And I speak from experience. One way to look fashionable and not break the bank is to stay with the basics. Stick with what you know suits your body type. And always ask yourself, ‘would I really wear this if it wasn’t in style?’ If you can’t say yes with all honesty, put it back on the rail.

I’ve been reading through some fashion magazines and trying to get a feel for what’s going to be hot this fall. Thankfully, it looks like nothing too outrageous is hitting the stores this year. Any of the following trends might be a good investment for years to come and I’m happy to say that I have a few of these items already hanging in my closet.

Wide Leg Pants
Without giving away my age, I’ll say I can remember when wide leg pants were the hot trend. Good thing is they hide more of our flaws and can look causal or classic. My tip, stick with basic colors like black, brown and navy. These colors pair up with just about anything you wear with them and their colors that never seem to go out of style.

Long Skirts
I have to admit that I’m a big fan of long skirts so I’m glad they’ve made a return to the stores. They’re great for fall and winter, yes, they keep your legs warmer and they look great paired with boots. Add a sweater and you’ve got a nice looking ensemble for the chilly months ahead.

Blouses with lots of Ruffles
Once again, I’m in luck because I have at least half a dozen blouses with ruffles in my closet. And best of all you can pair them with the wide leg pants and the long skirt. Another plus, you can dress them with some black pants or skirt and they’re glamorous enough for evening wear too.

Black
The hot color this year…black. You just can’t go wrong with that color. I can’t think of a color, okay maybe navy blue, that doesn’t pair with black. It’s a great color for the office or the night out on the town. And even bargain priced items seem to look more expensive in black.

Plaid
A quick look through my closet didn’t reveal anything that’s true plaid, other than a couple of scarves and a winter wrap that you can wear over a sweater or even a coat. I think this might be more of a one season trend, so don’t go overboard and stock up on the tartans and plaids this year. Stick with plaids and tartans in accessories or just the one skirt.

Flat Ballerina Shoes
Yes, the flat ballet type shoes are putting in another appearance. I’m seeing them just about everywhere. They’re not my favorite styles, but even if they do go out of style by spring, you can always use them as shoes to wear around the house.

Where to Buy the Clothes
So now you know what to look for, where are some places to pick up bargains?
While I haven’t shopped at one of the stores but I’ve heard that they do have a good selection of items and at prices that won’t break the bank. Steve and Barry’s, check out their Web site to find a store near you www.steveandbarrys.com

I’ve had some good buys at Kmart and I like their Route 66 line for things like jeans. www.kmart.com

Online retailers you might like to check out are www.forever21.com and www.chadwicks.com. I’ve had some great bargains from them and I like their service.

admin / August 19, 2008

The Blog-The Lazy Days of Summer

Where did summer go? Seems like only yesterday if was Independence Day. I have a ton of stuff I want to get done in the next couple of weeks. One is head to the farmer’s market and pick up some produce to turn into meals for fall and winter. One of my biggest splurges at the supermarket is sundried tomatoes. I love to eat them in grilled cheese sandwiches, omelets, you name it. Yes, they’re pricey and easy to make yourself. Every summer I vow to buy a tray of tomatoes and make my own but I never get around to it. Just the other day I received a cooking magazine and noticed they had a recipe for sundried tomatoes. I think that was enough incentive to force me to pick up some tomatoes this week and make a batch this weekend.

One of the other things on my must do list, is paint the trim under the gutters on the house. Last year a storm came through and damaged the trim. We hired a company to install new trim, but unfortunately it wasn’t pre-painted. I’m the painter in the family and I’ve been putting it off all summer. I’ve found excuse after excuse, but when I picked up this week’s flyer from our local DIY store, I saw that the exterior paint is on sale and you also get a $5 rebate. Once again, a great incentive to head to the store and buy it while it’s on sale. At least I’ll have the paint ready for when I get motivated about the job.

You know I love looking for budget related sites and I found this one. It reminded me of the show the Good Life with Felicity Kendal and Richard Briers. Anyone remember that show where he quits his high paying, but stressful job to become self sufficient? Okay, you might not want to keep pigs in your backyard and use the manure to fuel your furnace, but this site gives you lots of easy ideas about growing your own food and becoming more self sufficient which often means saving a ton of money. www.goselfsufficient.co.uk

And using coupons to help stretch your food dollar is becoming more essential than ever. One way to get coupons is to go straight to the manufacturer’s site. One I really like is Pillsbury, they own lots of companies so the coupons you get aren’t just for Pillsbury products. Go to www.pillsbury.com and click on coupons and promotions. You have to sign up, but I think it’s definitely worth it because some coupons are for $1 and if your local store has a double coupon day, it’s big savings for you.

admin / August 15, 2008

Check Out this New Book

Here’s a book that I know all Budget Smart Girls will enjoy reading. The Budget Savvy Lesson Plan by Melissa Tosetti and Kevin Gibbons.

Melissa is the creator of Budget Savvy Magazine which was a print publication but now is an online magazine. I’ve written a couple of articles for Melissa. She shares my philosophy about being budget smart while still enjoying the good life, so I know you’ll love the Budget Savvy Lesson Plan. It’s $12.95 and here’s a link that will tell you more about it and how you can order a copy. http://budgetsavvylessonplan.com

admin / August 15, 2008

The Budget Smart Girl’s Guide to Making the Most of August Sales

It’s that time again, shopping for back to school items. And while you might dread the bite it takes out of your budget, there are plenty of reasons for Budget Smart Girls to smile during August.

Sales, Sales and more Sales
Retailers know times are tough and that means more sales and more bargains for us as they try to compete for our money. I’ve seen back to school sales promoted in just about every place I’ve shopped…from the drug store to the supermarket.

Lunchtime Supplies
Other items I’m seeing deeply discounted are lunchbox related ones like thermos, etc. While you’re picking up a couple for the kids, why not pick up a few for the adults in the family. If you’re not already doing it, start taking your own brown bag lunch to work. And if you waste money buying bottled water each week, pick up a new bottle and fill your own each day before you head out the door.

Food
On my last couple of trips to the store, I’ve noticed lots of foods on sale and not just lunchbox favorites like tubs of applesauce and granola bars. Sale items have included lots of foods that kids love to eat when they get home from school. Quick meals like microwavable mac and cheese, etc. I think these are ideal items to have ‘on hand’ for those emergencies situations that always seem to happen, so if your budget will stretch to it, stock up now while prices are low.

Clothes
If you’re in the market for some new clothes or shoes, there are bargains galore out there right now. And if you have some extra money, it’s a great time to pick up some early Christmas gifts for everyone.

Office Supplies
I do most of the shopping for my home office during August. I stock up on typing paper, exercise books, pens and folders. I buy a good supply and usually don’t have to replenish them for at least another six months.

Furniture
Back to school sales aren’t just for the under 18 year olds. Lots of store’s target audience is the college bound student. And what does that mean for the Budget Smart Girl…sales on anything a student needs to furnish their dorm room. Bedding, towels, pillows, even furniture like tables, desks, alarm clocks, bathroom accessories, and yes, lots of organizing items.

admin / August 15, 2008

It’s Time for Lasagna

I’m not sure if it’s the avid cook in me, but I’m often fascinated to learn about the association between certain foods and days and/or months. For example, did you know that August is paired with lasagna? Don’t ask me how that association came about, but one thing I do know is that lasagna is a very budget friendly meal. Pasta is always one of the best bargains at the store, it’s fast and easy to prepare too. Most lasagna recipes use a cheaper cut of meat like ground beef. And the rest of the ingredients that make up a lasagna won’t break the bank either.

Lasagna can be made a day or even weeks before you plan to eat it because it freezes so well.

Lasagna can be made using all low fat ingredients.

Lasagna can be made using all vegetables, which means you save money on meat.

Leftovers, if there are any, make the perfect lunch.

And most of all, lasagna is a dish just about everyone loves.

There are lots of wonderful lasagna recipes out there and here’s one that’s a little different. In fact, I created this one last year when I had a bunch of ingredients and looked for ways I could use them together. The original recipe used jumbo pasta shells, but now I use lasagna pasta.

Greek Inspired Lasagna Rolls
Serves 6-8
One box lasagna pasta
1 26 oz. jar Classico Spicy Tomato and Pesto Sauce…any of your other favorite pasta sauces will work too, but this one adds a nice kick to the dish.
1 15 oz. container ricotta cheese, low fat or no fat is fine too.
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
1 16 oz. package frozen spinach, defrosted, drained and be sure to squeeze out all the water.
½ cup chopped Kalamata olives
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 10 X 13 lasagna pan with cooking spray.

Cook the lasagna in boiling water until al dente.

While the pasta cooks, mix together the spinach, ricotta cheese, chopped olives and feta cheese.

Drain the pasta, rinse with cold water and hang each piece over a dish so they don’t touch and stick together.

Pour just enough pasta sauce into the pan to coat it.

Take one piece of lasagna pasta and place some of the ricotta mixture on one end and then roll it up and place it into the pan. Repeat with the rest of the pasta and mixture.

Cover the rolls with the rest of the sauce and top with the Parmesan cheese.

Cover the pan with foil and place in the oven for about 15-20 minutes or until everything is bubbling and the cheese has melted.

You can serve this with a tossed green salad and Italian bread.

admin / August 12, 2008

The Blog-Sometimes You Get Sidelined

This week I’m battling a nasty summer bug that’s been plaguing my household the last couple of weeks. I thought I was going to avoid it, and then, wham, it hit me. It’s part cold, part laryngitis, and not to mention a case of Pink Eye thrown in for good measure. It’s thrown me off schedule for the projects I’ve been working on, and needless to say I’ve been relying on quick meals for supper each day. Yes, I’ve been sidelined from my usual routine and work, which got me thinking about why it’s important to have a financial safety net in place at all times. While this might be just an annoying summer cold, it also got me thinking about what would happen if this was a major illness. Experts say we should have six months living expenses in our savings accounts for emergencies. If you haven’t been saving for emergencies or that rainy day fund, maybe now’s a good time to think about it. Even if it’s just $10-20 a week, it’s a start.

I can’t say that opening bills is the highlight of my day, but when bills are accompanied by newsletters with information about how to save money, it’s a bonus. My local electrical company includes a newsletter called Energy Update and in the last couple of issues they’ve been featuring short articles on how you can save money on utilities. This month’s article was titled ‘Conserve Energy and Save Money’ and featured a pie chart showing you where the biggest percentage of your energy dollar is likely to go. Heating and cooling takes the biggest bite at 45%, water heater 11%, refrigerator 6%, clothes washer and dryer 10%, dishwasher 2%, computer and monitor 2%, TV, DVD, 2%, lighting 7% and ‘other’, which they say is the rest of the household appliances, 15%.

And while doing some research on recipe related Web sites, I found this little gem that’s part of the Food Stamp Program, http://recipefinder.nal.usda.gov/ I like the fact that you can customize your recipe search and even type in how much you want to pay to make each dish. A great resource so be sure to check it out.

admin / August 8, 2008

How A Food Makeover Can Save You Money

Most people think that eating healthful foods and adopting a healthy lifestyle costs a ton of money, but it can actually save you money. First of all, you’re less likely to get sick, which cuts down on the price of health care and lost wages when you have to call in sick at work. And secondly, if you fill your grocery cart with junk food, your grocery budget starts to fill the pinch.
Here are my easy steps to getting a food makeover

Learn to Read Nutrition Labels
An easy way to eat nutritious foods and save money is to learn how to read food labels. Learn what’s really low in fat, sugar, sodium and just don’t take the manufacturer’s word for it. Be an informed consumer and don’t waste money on foods that aren’t good for you.

Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Being told to eat your veggies isn’t anything new. I remember my parents always telling me I needed to eat more of the vegetables on my plate before I could get dessert or leave the table. I know it’s tough to squeeze them in, but if you spread them out during the whole day, it’s not so bad. Try snacking on fruit or veggies like baby carrots and celery sticks for snacks.

Eat More Fiber
Most people don’t get enough fiber in their diet. Fiber is good for keeping our blood sugar at a steady level and therefore it keeps the hunger pangs at bay. Fiber also fills us up so we don’t eat so much.

Choose Whole Grains
And speaking of fiber, one way to get more fiber is to choose whole grains. No more white bread, sugar or rice. Eating whole grains used to be a chore. Most items were unpalatable and tasted like cardboard, but these days more manufacturers are realizing the importance of whole grains and offering tasty products made from them. Whole grains offer fiber, you get more nutrients and therefore more nutritional bang for your buck.

Cut Down on Sugar
While I can’t say that I never eat cookies or desserts, I eat them sparingly. And I do that for two reasons, one, they tend to be loaded with sugar, and two, some desserts and cookies tend to be overpriced. If you’re going to eat them, make them yourself and make them an occasional treat instead of a daily indulgence.

Cut Down on Salt
Most convenience foods not only take a bite out of your food budget, but they also add a lot of unnecessary salt to your diet too. Make your own foods from scratch, and add things like herbs and spices.

Cut Down on Soda
I know it’s tough to cut down on the soda, but if you do it gradually, it’s achievable. There are lots of flavored water products on the market and Pur water filters offer a line of flavorings you can add to your filtered water. Just the other day I was shopping for orange juice and hadn’t realized just how expensive it’s become. One way you can make it go further is to add water. I’ve even add sparkling water to it. And you can do this with just about any juice.

Sites to Check Out
And here’s a site I found that can give you a quick nutrition lesson and it’s very entertaining too. And the recipes are definitely worth checking out.
www.thegoodfoodfight.com

Check out the new Budget Smart Girl Store Dismiss